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Planting for the future

Updated: 2 days ago

Restoring the water quality of Wairarapa Moana through planting native species is the mission of plant nursery He Kōtare, near Featherston. Funds provided by WBS allowed the nursery to install a vital and time-saving irrigation system.

Volunteers at Lake Wairarapa carrying Kairahe sedges

Wairarapa Moana (Lake Wairarapa) is part of Wairarapa Moana Wetlands, and as the largest wetland in the lower North Island has both national and international significance.

Yet the water quality is very poor with high levels of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, affecting wildlife and native plant life living in and around the lake. Restoring the moana to good health is an important long-term project, and one that Pae Tū Mōkai o Tauira, a local Māori hapori (community group) has taken on through its He Kōtare native nursery at the old Featherston Golf Course.

Plantings around the moana help improve water quality by filtering nutrients, sediment and bacteria leached into the lake as run-off from farmland.

Pae Tū Mokai o Tauira Treasurer Karen Mikaera says the group gather seeds from plants already established near the moana. These are cleaned, stored, then planted in a series of shade houses – moving from an indoor nursery to outdoors. It’s a nurturing and hardening off process that develops resilient plants that go on to thrive in sometimes testing conditions around the lake. So far 1000 plants have been eco-sourced and replanted around the moana – where they are flourishing says Karen. Many thousands more, ranging from seedlings to fully formed young plants, grow and wait their turn in the shade houses. Plants are also grown to be sold, raising funds for the nursery’s running and development costs. Foundation work for the nursery began in 2019, and He Kōtare is now two years into its growing phase. “Initially, the facility seemed huge, now we need another shade house, but we can only move on with developing He Kōtare if we have the funding to do so,” says Karen.

The money provided by WBS for an irrigation system for the growing plants proved to be an invaluable lifeline for the young plants and a time-saver for the nursery. Before it was installed, all plants had to be watered laboriously by hand every morning and evening – a time-consuming process when plants number in the thousands.

Grouped in neat rows in the nursery according to species and growth stage, the range of plants is wide: harakeke, kanuka, manuka, toetoe, kowhai, tī kōuka, makaka (salt marsh ribbonwood), and wiwi.

Karen points to a small tufty grass – “This is Carex cirrhosa – one of the few species that grows below the watermark, and it helps to cleanse the water.”

One of the stars has to be the tiny kahikatea – brought to the nursery as seedlings in a shovel-load of earth from original bush near the moana. Potentially, these forest giants have centuries of growth ahead of them.

“We are planting for future generations,” says Karen.

Indoors, Nursery Manager, Michele Sandford is transplanting a tray of 2,000 tiny harakeke. “I love it – for the moana and for the people involved,” she says.

Another goal of Pae Tū Mōkai o Tauira is to share knowledge. Gardening and conservation groups and school children visit, and an open day in 2023 was a huge success. "Locals loved seeing something so positive happening," says Michele.

In 2023, WBS celebrated 150 years of supporting Wairarapa locals and businesses. They have a bold goal of helping our community through lending, investments and providing grassroots support to hundreds of organisations throughout Wairarapa.


You can support your community and He Kōtare by making a donation, buying plants, or volunteering at our community planting days.

For further information of how you can get involved, please email: or follow us on Facebook for regular updates.

Article written by Katherine Robinson Photos by Lucia Zanmonti

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